Right now, high-powered lobbyists for the giant telecom companies are descending on Capitol Hill to lobby Congress. Their aim: to secure immunity for their clients, insulating them from liability for breaking the law in connection with the NSA?s illegal warrantless wiretapping program. Clearly, EFF's case against AT&T is in their crosshairs.
Considering the urgency of the issue, mainstream media coverage has been surprisingly spotty and incomplete. But there are some excellent updates and analysis from bloggers and news sources that have been doggedly covering the facts as they come in. Here are a few of our picks:
Granting amnesty to telecoms would signal Congressional acquiescence in an illegal course of conduct. It would send a loud message to other businesses and individuals: Don't worry if the executive branch comes to you secretly and demands that you violate the law or impinge on basic liberties. We'll bail you out. And it would stymie lawsuits that not only serve accountability, but also provide paths to illuminate what harm has been done to our rights.
In seeking amnesty for the telecoms, the White House is striking the same chord it hit when President Bush pardoned Lewis "Scooter" Libby: Crimes may have been committed, but so long as they are done in the name of the White House, there will be few consequences. Indeed, Michael McConnell's (flawed) argument about bankrupting the telecoms harmonizes with President Bush's claim that Libby's sentence was too harsh. Companies and individuals that break the law without the benefit of the Executive's blessing pay the consequences of their unlawful actions every day.
It is hard to overstate how much of a priority FISA immunity is for the Bush White House, and for obvious reasons. Ironically, they were actually proposing the same sweeping retroactive immunity language back in September of 2006 when the Republicans controlled both houses of Congress, but they could not get the Congress to pass FISA legislation. With the Democrats in control of Congress, and Democratic Beltway influence-peddlers like Gorelick working with them, their chances of obtaining such legislation are now plainly enhanced, and according to both Risen and Isikoff/Hosenball, they are likely to obtain some form of retroactive immunity now that Democrats control Congress. There are reasons -- good reasons -- why the current Congress is more popular among Republicans than Democrats.
A grim sign is the way the ACLU, normally an ally of progressive Democrats, is being kept in the dark by the Democratic leadership about their plans to "compromise" with the administration, and copies of proposed bills are being kept hidden, at this point, from progressive advocacy groups -- so we will all have too little time to react and demand constitutional protection.
I just got off the phone with Caroline Fredrickson from the ACLU, and the news is about what you'd expect if you have witnessed Democratic House behavior over the past six months. The bottom line is that Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid are disorganized and giving no signals to members on the FISA wiretapping expansion and retroactive immunity to telecom companies, which is going to result in horrific legislation. In the Senate, Jay Rockefeller is once again inviting Mike McConnell into closed hearings on how to fix the FISA law, and the markup is next week. There are no drafts of legislation around, which is a bad sign. The Senate Judiciary Committee is hamstrung by Dianne Feinstein, who prevents a majority, and by the instincts of Democrat leaders who, in a conflicts between Judiciary and Intelligence, will go with Intelligence because of a perceived fear of national security weakness.
And don't miss the ACLU FISA Fact sheet:
Myth: The so-called ?Protect America Act? permits the collection of foreign-to-foreign calls and doesn?t implicate Americans.
Reality: No. What McConnell isn?t saying, is that the new law also allows the government to collect foreign to domestic calls and, quite possibly, domestic to domestic calls. Any communications that are ?directed at? or even ?concerning? someone overseas may be collected, even when one party to the communication is an American. That means that Americans will have our calls and emails swept up in this newly legalized dragnet.